This feature first appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
Virtualization, in all its myriad forms, is the fundamental enabling technology behind cloud computing. Therefore, virtualization lies at the center point of the knowledge base required of any current-generation systems administrator.
Formally defined, virtualization is a software abstraction layer between physical computer hardware and one or more logical instances of operating systems or applications. For example, we can set up a single physical server to host five or six virtual machines (VMs) that appear to the rest of the network as separate physical servers.
Deploying a VM means representing each major hardware software subsystem in software. That is, the VM's virtual hard disk is simply a (large) file in the physical host server's file system, and the VM's virtual CPU, RAM, and networking hardware is "borrowed" from its physical host.
Virtualization takes place at many different levels in 21st century IT. To wit:
Server Virtualization — Deploying fully functional servers by means of a hypervisor. The hypervisor is the underlying "engine" behind virtualization, and is built into modern CPU hardware. Server virtualization is also sometimes called operating system (OS) virtualization.
Application Virtualization — Here we deploy individual applications in isolated containers that can potentially be streamed across an internal LAN or the public internet. This virtualization method is useful when, for instance, you need to support different versions of the same app on the same target computers.
Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) — VDI enables businesses to host their employees' desktop operating system environment on one or more physical host servers. The user normally needs nothing more than a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and network adapter at their desktop; their entire client OS experience is streamed from a central server.
Server virtualization specifically conveys huge benefits to any organization. These benefits include but are definitely not limited to the following:
Agility — You can move VMs from one physical host to another (in most cases) without having to shut down the VM.
Cost Savings — Instead of purchasing and configuring separate hardware servers, you can buy a single physical host and run the other services as VMs. This saves the company hardware costs, electricity, and the human capital necessary to maintain separate servers.
Ease of Backup — Backing up and restoring entire VMs is trivially easy because all VM data and configuration exists in the host server's file system and memory space.
Now that we understand a bit of what virtualization is and why it's so highly prized in the IT industry, let's turn our attention to virtualization certifications.
Virtualization Certification — The Big Picture
Most of the major IT service vendors have their own virtualization products, and offer certifications to help people validate their skills with particular platforms. In this article we'll examine certifications by the following five vendors. I've also listed each vendor's flagship virtualization product or platform:
- VMware (vSphere)
- Microsoft (Hyper-V)
- Citrix (XenApp; XenDesktop)
- Oracle (Oracle VM)
- Red Hat (Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization)
As you know by now, there are several different ways virtualization can be accomplished. To that point, each aforementioned vendor offers entire portfolios of virtualization-related certifications.
The approach we'll take today is to explain each vendor's entry-level or associate certification. This way, you'll have a feel for how each vendor's program works. You are then encouraged to visit the vendor's certification web site to learn of related offerings. Let's get started!
VMware has been in the virtualization market for a long time. Let's take a look at their VMware Certified Associate 6 — Data Center Virtualization (VCA6-DCV) credential. Historically, VMware requires their certification candidates to attend an in-person, VMware-authorized training course as a prerequisite to taking a VMware exam.
The good news here is that the VCA6-DCV has no course requirement. You simply need to pass Exam 1V0-601, VCA6-DCV Fundamentals to obtain your first VMware certification. This computer-based exam includes 50 multiple-choice questions, has a time limit of 75 minutes, and costs $120 per attempt.
That's right — most IT certification exams are paid per attempt, and in general you receive no discount on subsequent exam registrations. The "6" in VCA6-DCV stands for vSphere version 6; it's important to note that VMware's certifications are always aligned to a particular product version.
That said, only the VMware Certified Professional (VCP) exams, along with VMware's even higher-level titles, require recertification. Your associate-level title will remain valid indefinitely.
Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor, available in both Windows Server and modern Windows Client operating system, is perhaps VMware's biggest competitor in business.
As of this writing in late spring 2016, Microsoft has a single specialist certification in Hyper-V and their System Center datacenter management suite. It's exam 70-409, Server Virtualization with Windows Server Hyper-V and System Center.
In the Microsoft technology stack, the Hyper-V hypervisor is only part of a toolchain that includes System Center products such as System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) and System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM).
Like the VCA6-DCV, this Hyper-V/System Center specialist credential has no classroom training requirement. You register to take this computer-based test through Pearson VUE, and each attempt costs $150.
Microsoft has historically been generous in offering certification exam discounts — be on the lookout for Microsoft Learning's certification-related promotions, because you may get a really good deal.
Citrix is in the application (XenApp) and VDI (XenDesktop) market segment, and they have significant market penetration to prove their successful track record.
Consider the Citrix Certified Associate — Virtualization (CCA-V) title to get your feet wet with their technologies. At the associate level, Citrix wants you to validate your skills against their XenDesktop product. Exam 1Y0-201, Managing Citrix XenDesktop 7.6 Solutions, is a 180-minute computer-based test offered at Pearson VUE testing centers that costs $200 per attempt.
One thing to keep in mind concerning Citrix exams is that they include simulation items in addition to your bread-and-butter multiple choice items. Simulation items present a mocked-up XenDesktop environment in which you're asked to perform various configuration tasks.
Simulation items are nice, because you can prove to yourself and Citrix that you actually know how to do the work. On the other hand, some Pearson VUE testing centers have such old, rickety testing PCs that simulation items are a bit unstable. Do your research before scheduling an exam!
When Oracle purchased Sun Microsystems in 2010, they inherited Sun's VirtualBox VM desktop hypervisor. Oracle has since expanded on that hypervisor, turning it into an enterprise server virtualization platform called, appropriately enough, Oracle VM.
The Oracle VM 3.0 for x86 Certified Implementation Specialist (say that three times quickly) has no classroom training requirement and mandates that you pass only one exam: 1Z0-590, Oracle VM 3.0 for x86 Essentials.
Exam 1Z0-590 includes 72 multiple-choice questions given over 120 minutes and has a passing score of 61 percent. Exam registration occurs through Pearson VUE and costs $245 per attempt.
Red Hat has been a leading enterprise Linux provider since at least 1999. In keeping with modern industry trends, Red Hat has their own hypervisor platform called Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Manager, as well as an associated credential called Red Hat Certified Virtualization Administrator (RHCVA).
Red Hat list the following as prerequisites for Exam EX318, so take care to prepare yourself accordingly:
- Experience using Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization
- Experience using and installing software on Windows
- Experience using VNC to view remote desktops
The 3-hour test costs $600 if taken via classroom at one of Red Hat's prearranged locations (in California, Georgia, New Jersey, New Jersey, Texas and Washington, D.C.), but there is also an option to take the test at your work site. Like all Red Hat certification exams, Exam EX318 is entirely performance-based.
In summary, your decision to go for a virtualization vendor's entry-level, professional-level, or expert-level certification depends entirely upon your overall virtualization experience and familiarity with the vendor's products.
A general trend with these certifications is that you don't need to prove you've worked with the platform for a given number of months or years. As long as you meet the exam registration (and sometimes classroom training) requirements, then you can sit for the test, receive your credential, and go on your merry way.
If nothing else, a virtualization certification is likely to give you an edge over your competitors in your next job hunt. Also, IT contracts with governmental or other bureaucratic organizations oftentimes require proof of industry certification.